Skip to main content Skip to footer site map

Discovering the Smallest Wild Dog in the Vast Sahara


Over the course of filming “Dogs in the Wild”, the filmmakers learned that not all wild dogs are easy to film. Among the most difficult to film was not only the tiniest wild dog but also lives in the Sahara Desert: the fennec fox.


- [Narrator] Over the course of filming, the Wild Dogs team quickly learned that not all canids are so easy to spot and some are very hard to keep up with.

The most challenging of all to film, is not only the tiniest, it also lives in the Sahara Desert.

The fennec fox.

Faced with such a challenge, the team would be lost without local expert Ali Oubassidi.

- [Gavin] So the desert must be like your back garden?

- Yeah, a desert is my garden, from my first moment in this life.

- With Ali on the team, they soon see signs of fennec foxes.

- Look at the track of our car yesterday and just after, this is after our car. - [Gavin] Yeah.

- And around, I didn't see a new fresh tracks go out, it means he's inside.

- [Narrator] The tracks are leading to a potential den site.

They don't want to disturb the area, so director Gavin has brought some equipment built specially for the challenge.

- I bring you the dachshund.

Caterpillar tracks, maximum traction, independent suspension small stabilized camera on a gimbal.

- The dachshund's small enough to allow the crew to remotely creep up on the side.

- Looks like something has been digging around and there's definitely fox footprints, looks good.

- With an active den detected, the crew film around the clock.

But despite the long hours, the wary fennecs are approving a challenge for camera op Tom.

- They're so tuned in to the natural sounds around the desert, but anything that's out of the ordinary, they'll either inspect it or they'll take that as an opportunity to just scarp it and go.

They can see and hear me from like 50 meters and annoyingly the wind circulates in these bowls of dunes so they can also smell me quite easily as well.

- [Narrator] It's several days before patience finally pays off but the team's excitement is quickly shattered.

The fennec has a trap on its leg.

The injured fennec vanishes over the dunes before the team have a chance to catch up with it.

- I really worry, it's just not gonna last long out here, not in that condition.

- [Narrator] Sadly, this is not a rare sight for Ali.

- We have this problem last, last time here because the children from the village come to take them and to shout at the tourist.

When the tourist come, they give them the fennec to take a picture and then tourist give to the children, money.

- [Narrator] A license is needed to trade or hold fennec foxes, but lucrative pet and tourist trades have encouraged illegal trapping for decades.

Human interference is such a threat, unregulated trade could wipe out local populations.

The problem has concerned Ali for many years.

- I can't see how I feel, it's make me sad, very, very sad.

- As well as the illegal trade, some irresponsible tourists have been causing further cruelty.

Ali's found a dead fennec near a popular spot for motorbikes.

- I think there is no accident between fennec and the motorbikes but the problem is they, the motorbikes follow him for a long time, I think more than one kilometer they follow him then he's dead because he can't run for a long time.

- [Narrator] The desert is more than large enough to make space for both people and wildlife.

- I think that we need to make like a zoning in this area, reserve it only for animals, for fennecs.

- After days without luck, the team's morale is running low, but with hope disappearing, there's good news at least from camera operator Matt.

- We dropped off, set up the hide, got the camera turned on.

I was just about to like, you know, frame up and do stuff, he started the engine and then a head popped up and two ears and it was just, yeah... Okay and this was like as soon as you left, 09:36, so you'd literally just left.

- [Ali] Wow.

Wow, really nice.

- [Gavin] How did you feel when you saw them there?

- It's like it was just, it was ridiculous, like, I couldn't actually believe it, we've been trying this long.

Tom's put so many hours in a hide, but as soon as the head pops up, I just, I was recording but I've never been like this, but I was literally shaking.

- With filming finally going well, there's an even more welcome surprise from the team's first fennec encounter, Ali has been able to track down the snared fennec.

(somber orchestral music) - Can you help me please?

- Yes, what should I do?

- Push this, push this one.

- This one? - Yeah, take that, just take this one, like this.

- Yeah.

- Open please, open the... Thank you.

- [Gavin] Good boy.

How does that leg looks?

- [Narrator] There's no medical support here but Ali's seen incidents before and is able to assess the wound.

- Just give him the (indistinct) - He believes this fennec will survive its ordeal.

- [Ali] I'm so happy.

- [Gavin] Good work. - [Ali] Yeah.

- Good work, I really hope he's all right.

- [Narrator] Despite the trapping, the Moroccan government stipulates that the hunting, killing and capture of endangered animals is completely banned.

(somber piano music) - [Narrator] Hopefully, with the right protection and the support of people like Ali, the future for this intrepid little fox will be bright.

(motorbike revving) (wind whistling and swooshing)


PBS is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization.